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Davis, California

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

True or False

Cold and flu season is just starting to take off, and if you scroll down your Facebook news feed, chances are that one or more of your friends will have a cold. I’ve had three friends complain about it just this week alone.

It’s also likely that when you or your friend posts a status about the misery of the common cold, someone will chime in, “Make sure you drink lots of orange juice and stay in bed!”

But why orange juice in particular? Proponents say that the vitamin C in the orange juice helps treat and even prevent colds. This remedy was first promoted around the 1970s; since then, however, the claim has not survived scientific scrutiny.

Let’s back up a bit. The common cold is caused by a virus, most often a rhinovirus but could also be a coronavirus or a respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). More than 200 viruses have been identified that cause common cold symptoms; about 110 of those belong to the rhinovirus group. This diverse array of causes is why no one has yet found a single vaccine or cure for the common cold.

What about vitamin C? Vitamin C, found in a great deal of fruits and vegetables but especially oranges and other citrus fruit, is a vital nutrient. The vitamin maintains bone, muscle and blood vessels, as well as forms collagen and helps the body absorb iron. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) is about 90 milligrams for men and about 75 milligrams for women, which can be easily achieved through eating fruits and vegetables.

Despite the many general benefits of vitamin C, however, fighting off colds isn’t one of them. The majority of studies done on the subject have found vitamin C to be no better than a placebo in the majority of patients. The only group that showed a significant decrease in colds from taking vitamin C were people in “extreme conditions,” such as marathon runners. For most adults and children, there was no real difference.

So, what should you do to fight a cold? First of all, don’t take antibiotics. Antibiotics kill bacteria but do nothing against viruses; the best-case scenario is that you’re wasting money, and the worst-case scenario is that you’re increasing antibiotic resistance among the bacteria.

The only thing to do for a cold is to simply wait out the symptoms. Most symptoms last five to seven days, so get plenty of rest and drink plenty of water in that time. Wash your hands often, especially during the first three days, as that is when you are most contagious. If you develop a fever or you start vomiting, it’s probably the flu or another illness and you should see your doctor.

AMY STEWART can be reached at science@theaggie.org.


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